Personalized plates offer license for creativity
By Jason Cato
Published: Saturday, March 30, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Pennsylvania's love for vanity license plates continues to grow more than eight decades since it became the first state to allow drivers to personalize the stamped-metal placards affixed to their bumpers.
“I think they are more fun than the ‘XYZ 123,' ” said Lisa Reilly, 46, of McKees Rocks, who obtained her first vanity plate in 1987 and landed a plate reading “YINZERS” in April 2009. “I wanted something with Pittsburgh in it.”
More than 23,500 people in Pennsylvania secured plates with special messages in 2012, PennDOT figures show. That's up from 15,158 in 2009.
PennDOT added a website feature in 2010 allowing people to quickly find out whether their desired configuration was available, said spokeswoman Jan McKnight.
Other states do more to make those vanity plates a money-maker.
“States are using some very creative ways to generate revenue through providing services and opportunities that customers want,” said Catherine Curtis, director of vehicle programs for an Arlington, Va., group. “Lotteries and auctions offer ways for people to participate and get a plate they've always wanted.”
Texas in 2009 became the first state to expand sales beyond its motor vehicle agency and have an outside vendor sell plates.
“I think most states are missing out on the opportunity we're maximizing here in Texas,” said Kim Miller Drummond, a spokeswoman for MyPlates.com, an Austin-based private vendor charged with boosting license-plate revenues in the Lone Star State by $25 million during a five-year period ending in 2014.
Proceeds are divided among the vendor, state and charities.
As of this week, $15.2 million has gone to the Texas general fund from MyPlates.com through the sale of nearly 139,000 personalized license plates in less than three years, Drummond said. She noted that money came without taxpayer expense.
“It's a popular way to raise money for Texas because it's a choice. Nobody makes you get a specialty plate,” Drummond said. “We could do this for other states, but lawmakers must change laws to maximize this revenue stream.”
No such discussions have started in Pennsylvania, Mc-Knight said.
“I'm not saying we can't,” she said, “but it's never really been considered.”
Pennsylvania was the first state to offer customized plates starting in 1931, though plates were restricted to the driver's initials.
Today, every state offers personalized tags, and license plates are big business.
The nearly 10 million motor vehicles with vanity plates generate nearly $200 million in revenue collectively for states, according to the American Association of Vehicle Administrators.
Personalized plates account for about 280,000 of Pennsylvania's 11.5 million registered license plates. Customers pay a one-time fee of $20 for a vanity plate, which generated approximately $470,000 last year, not counting the annual $36 vehicle registration fee.
Prices for personalized plates on MyPlates.com range from $85 to $395 per year, with discounts offered for multi-year registration.
In 2011, MyPlates.com held its first “Great Plates Auction,” which sold highly coveted vanity plates to the highest bidders. The top price of $15,000 went for a “FERRARI” plate, while one reading “COWBOYS” fetched $11,500.
In January, another plate auction set a record when a car dealer paid $25,000 for a “HOUSTON” plate.
Before the auctions, no Texas license plate contained more than six characters. The auctioned plates allow the purchaser to transfer the plate, either to family or on the open market.
Open-market auctions, which aren't permitted in Pennsylvania, have landed lottery-sized jackpots here and abroad.
An Abu Dhabi businessman in 2008 bought a United Arab Emirates “1” plate for a record $14.3 million. Hong Kong in 2006 raised more than $30 million for charity by auctioning personalized tags.
People in Delaware have coveted low-numbered tags since they first were issued more than a century ago. Two plates — “8” and “11” — sold at auction in the past five years for $675,000 each.
“The interest in Delaware license plates will always be a fun topic,” said DelDOT spokesman Mike Williams.
Colorado is establishing an auction for expired but desirable plates, with proceeds benefiting disabled residents.
Illinois' governor wants to auction that state's “1” plate to raise money for veterans' groups.
Reilly said she believes a similar program in the Keystone State would be successful, especially if PennDOT offered a “STEELERS” tag.
“Think of the money they could make just with that one,” Reilly said. “But you'd have to be worried about people stealing it.”
Jason Cato is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7936 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Stricter Right-to-Know Law may have helped in PSU case, advocates argue
- PSU gift failed ‘gut check’ for top open records officer
- Western Pa. counties weigh shale gas drilling on public land
- Pa. treasurer says Corbett’s lawyers mishandled pension investigation
- Lawmakers propose removing state judges from Pennsylvania ballots
- ‘Moving Memorial’ on way to Somerset, drives home dangers of DUI
- Grants aren’t the same old payouts, Corbett says
- Penn State to add cameras at main campus to enhance security
- Painting displayed in Johnstown honors fallen Pa. National Guard aviators
- Worst of winter storm expected to miss Pittsburgh